Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Greatest Rock Albums of the 1960s, Part II

Welcome to Part 2 of The Greatest Rock Albums of the 1960s. As with the first installment of this article, The Greatest Rock Albums of the 1960s, Part I, I've compiled a comprehensive list of another 30 superlative rock albums (to bring the total to 60 - I know, clich├ęd, right?) for your reading and listening pleasure, plus a few more oddities from the 60s I thought you may enjoy. Or perhaps only I enjoy them, but I thought it might be fun to annoy you with them.

What I found truly amazing as I rifled through my record and CD collection is that I had forgotten how diverse the sounds were in the 60s, particularly in the last half of that decade. We (and I include you here as well) tend to look back on that era as primarily a longhaired hippie love-fest with fuzzy guitars and even fuzzier memories. But as one peruses a list of important works, the differences between bands can be enormous. For instance, consider three albums released in 1968, The Doors' Strange Days, The Band's Music from the Big Pink, and The Moody Blues' In Search of the Lost Chord. All rock albums, all quite famous, all heavy on keyboards, but each exceedingly different in compositional style, frame of reference and influences. You can comparison shop all through the list and find such differentiation (how about the albums Led Zeppelin, The Stooges and Chicago Transit Authority from 1969?). It was a great era for the nascent rock form, and some really great bands ran with it.

As usual, certain caveats apply, such as no country, blues, jazz, R&B or soul albums (except in one case where the delineation is not so clear-cut), no greatest hits albums, and no live albums (again, save in one case because the album contains both studio and live cuts). But let's get right to the albums without belaboring the point further:

Bob Dylan - The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan
Dylan's second album was literally a radical departure from the first. In both polemic lyrics and composition, Dylan struck a chord with millions of disaffected youths across the world and gave a movement its voice. Within three years, Dylan would strap on an electric guitar and drag the movement, kicking and screaming, into a counterculture rock revolution. "Blowin' in the Wind", "Masters of War", "Oxford Town" and "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" reflect growing discontent and outrage against war and racism, while "Girl from the North Country" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" are about love in the cold and a love grown cold. Other Dylan albums may have greater critical acclaim, but this is the wellspring where Dylan found himself, and in the process, a generation found a prophet.
Worth the price of admission: PLEASE NOTE - Bob won't allow his originals on YouTube, and yet The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and Pink Floyd do. Do you think these bands have lost any album sales because of it?

The Band - Music from the Big Pink
The Band's Music From Big Pink and its follow-up album The Band represent the greatest compilation of Americana (rock, country, blues, New Orleans jazz) on two albums from a single band. The Library of Congress needs to list these two albums as American treasures. That, in my estimation, is how important they are. The sound is timeless; in fact, it is impossible to date this from 1968 when it was released. Big Pink in no way matches the general pop or psychedelic sound of the era, and therefore transcends the music of its time. One cannot even say the same thing for Beatles albums of the era. The Band can rock, but they can also out-country most supposed 'country musicians'. Of particular note are "Long Black Veil", "Chest Fever", and of course "The Weight", one of the great American epics. And Dylan's "I Shall Be Released" is stunning and emotional. RIP, Levon Helm!
Worth the price of admission: Chest Fever, The Weight, I Shall Be Released.

The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour
Originally released in Britain as an EP soundtrack of the film, Capitol Records, in their greed for all things Beatlemania, released an LP version in the U.S. with side one containing the six-song soundtrack, and side two the A and B sides of singles that were released in 1967. The made-for-BBC TV movie was a tremendous flop, but the album was magnificent, and certainly their most trippy. It also marks the growing dichotomy between McCartney's pop and "granny" tunes ("Your Mother Should Know", "Fool on the Hill", "Penny Lane", "Hello, Goodbye") and Lennon's cerebral wordplay and love of psychedelia (the immortal "I Am the Walrus", John's answer to Paul's "Penny Lane" - "Strawberry Fields Forever", and the Indian-infused "Baby You're a Rich Man"). Throw in George Harrison's obligatory contribution "Blue Jay Way", and top it off with Lennon's 1967 world peace anthem "All You Need is Love" (absolutely great strings and horns), and you have a memorable "trip" sandwiched between two masterpieces, Sgt. Pepper's and The White Album.
Worth the price of admission: I Am The Walrus, Strawberry Fields, Penny Lane.

Sly and the Family Stone - Stand
The last Stone album with vestiges of the rock form and psychedelia before Sly and Company ventured off completely into funk on There's a Riot Going On (ergo, why I've included it here), Stand also presents the Family Stone as one of the few integrated groups on the music scene, even though there was increasing agitation from the Black Panther Party to remove the two white members, saxophonist Jerry Martini and drummer Greg Errico (prejudice and ignorance cuts both ways). This high-energy romp through blues, rock, soul and funk is captured in part in the Woodstock film, and Sly and the band were definitely one of the highlights during the "Three Days of Peace and Music". Songs like "Stand", "Want to Take You Higher", "Everyday People" and "Sing a Simple Song" are part of the fabric of the 1960s. And of course, who could not love a song entitled "Don't Call Me Nigger, Whitey" (great funk there), and the extended jam "Sex Machine" takes a simple blues bass line and goes off into jazz improv, R&B and psychedelic rock.
Worth the price of admission: Want to Take You Higher, Sing a Simple Song, Everyday People, Sex Machine.

The Doors - Strange Days
The Doors debut may receive more accolades and is certainly worthy of them, but in many instances I think Strange Days is the better album, and I'm sure the quality arguments would be in reverse had Strange Days been released first. Yes, there will be comparisons between "The End" and "When the Music's Over", but except for the oedipal impact of the former, the latter is a far better composition, and the Doors' greatest epic. The song "People Are Strange" is the epitome of a Doors' pop classic, easy enough on the ears to be hummed by grandma, but with the lurking sense of off-kilter bizarreness that always leaves one unsettled. "Moonlight Drive", with its equally unsettling ending ("baby gonna drown tonight"), turns a love song into a suicide - another instance of Jim Morrison's continued implications of taking things one step too far. The song "Strange Days" evokes a "trip" ("Strange eyes fill strange rooms/Voices will signal their tired end/The hostess is grinning..."), and is one of the first recordings to use a Moog synthesizer.
Worth the price of admission: When the Music's Over, Strange Days, People Are Strange

The Rolling Stones - Beggar's Banquet
Beggar's Banquet is usually considered the starting point for The Stones' greatest period of work (the albums Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street), and although I don't consider this album to be on the same level as their next three stellar releases, it's certainly much better than that psychedelic mess Their Satanic Majesties Request. Perhaps Beggar's Banquet and the subsequent albums are greater releases because The Stones finally stopped trying to compete with The Beatles and finally got back to who they really were (although the album cover was said to be a copy of The White Album). Banquet is much more primal and hard-edged than the flowery trippiness of Majesties Request. "Sympathy for the Devil" (yes, Mick, we know you're evil - whatever) and "Street Fighting Man" reinforce the swagger from earlier albums, and "Stray Cat Blues" (the best song on the album), "Parachute Woman" and "Salt of the Earth" are blueprints for their following albums.
Worth the price of admission: Stray Cat Blues, Parachute Woman, Salt of the Earth.

One of three masterpieces by this band (the others being John Barleycorn Must Die and Low Spark of High Heeled Boys), Traffic's debut album features a songwriting battle between two competing composers: the more earthy and bluesy Dave Mason and the ethereal and jazzy Steve Winwood (both getting timely writing assists from the multi-talented Jim Capaldi). The winner is the listener, who gets to hear great Mason tunes like "Feelin' Alright", "Vagabond Virgin" and "You Can All Join In", and Winwood's "(Roamin' Thro' the Gloamin with) 40,000 Headmen", "Pearly Queen" and "No Time to Live". Eventually, the disparity in vision for the band caused Mason to move on to a solo career, and Winwood taking the lead for Traffic.
Worth the price of admission: Feelin' Alright, (Roamin' Through The Gloamin' With) 40,000 Headmen, Pearly Queen.

The Byrds - Mr. Tambourine Man
A pinnacle of American folk-rock in the 60s, The Byrds' Mr. Tambourine Man combined Bob Dylan's lyrical philosophy with jangling 12-string Rickenbackers and the complex harmonies found in Beatles' tunes. The albums variates from Dylan and other artist's covers and songs composed primarily by lead singer Gene Clark, like "I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better". Peter Seeger's song around poet Idris Davies' "Bells of Rhymney" contains Edgar Allen Poe's repetition as emphasis, and although it is given a radio-friendly turn by The Byrds, it is in fact about a Welsh mining disaster and subsequent strike (once again proving my point that you can say anything in a song and people will still hum along). Of course, the biggest points of interest on the album are the preponderance of Dylan tunes ("Mr. Tambourine Man", "Chimes of Freedom", "Spanish Harlem Incident" and "All I Really Want to Do"), showing the immense influence of Dylan in both America, and on British rockers like The Beatles.
Worth the price of admission: I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better, The Bells of Rhymney, Mr. Tambourine Man.

Fairport Convention - Liege and Lief
The quintessential British folk-rock album from a woefully underrated rock band in general terms. The late, great Sandy Denny never got her due as a rock diva, but her voice is beautiful and distinctive (and if you voice eerily familiar, it's probably because you remember her duet with Robert Plant on Led Zeppelin's "The Battle of Evermore"). Liege and Lief is basically an electrified bit of traditional folk heaven, with many of the songs dating from the 16th through the 18th centuries, with original compositions by guitarist extraordinaire Richard Thompson, bassist Ashley Hutchings, fiddler Dave Swarbick and Denny sounding in much the same vein as the traditional tunes; in fact, so well does the original material match the traditional, it can be quite hard to differentiate the two, which is a testament to the group's songwriting skills. Songs of particular interest are 'Reynardine' (an eerie song about a were-fox that draws a young woman to her doom), 'Farewell, Farewell' (a Thompson composition sung with appropriate melancholy by Denny) and 'Tam Lin' (another traditional tune which Fairport breathes life into). And the highlights are the violin-inflected jams on 'Matty Groves' (an old-style hack 'n' slash song of adultery) and 'Medley' (jig anyone?).
Worth the price of admission: Matty Grove, Reynardine, Lark in the Morning/Medley.

Neil Young - Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere
Old Neil (well, he was young Neil at the time) didn't particularly care for his eponymous debut album, and so he amped up the guitar and variated between fabulous electric rave-ups ("Cinnamon Girl", "Down by the River", "Cowgirl in the Sand"), and country honk ("Everybody Knows This is Nowhere", "Losing End", and the wonderful backwater duet between Young and Robin Lane on "Round and Round"). Critics could never figure out Neil, but they thought they liked this album (not quite sure what to make of him). Yet fans loved him for his quirkiness right off the bat, and folks like myself have enjoyed each and every eccentric and melancholy turn of his career. You want quirky? Listen to the gypsy fiddle-driven "Running Dry (Requiem for the Rockets)". The violence and mayhem of Neil's distortion juxtaposed against the softly sung lyrics on "Cowgirl in the Sand" is revelatory, and we never quite understand why Neil "shot his baby" on the song "Down by the River".
Worth the price of admission: Down by the River, Cowgirl in the Sand, Running Dry.

Jimi Hendrix - Axis: Bold as Love
Axis: Bold as Love was indeed a bold departure from the hit machine that was Are You Experienced. Even though it was released in the same year 1967, it marks a dramatic lyrical evolution from Hendrix's first release, and this is evident in the stream-of-conscious, almost free-form, versing in such brilliant compositions as "Castles Made of Sand", "Bold as Love" and the albums best song (and my personal favorite) "Little Wing". But perhaps because this 2nd album was rushed (due to the phenomenal impact of Are You Experienced), Axis is uneven and not as consistently astonishing as Experienced or the following masterpiece Electric Ladyland (much like the Beatles' body of work, one should rate Hendrix albums against Hendrix's own releases -- there are no other relevant comparisons). The vocals and backing vocals on "Aint no Telling", "You Got Me Floatin'" and "She's So Fine" reflect amateurish 60's pop and seem strangely alien (and annoying) to the album and detract from the overall ambiance of the recording (as well as the infectious grooves of the songs themselves). The inclusions are regrettable. Also, a truly great Hendrix offering, the memorably rebellious "If 6 Was 9" is counterpointed by a mundane Hendrix tune like "EXP/Up From The Skies" (throwaway psychedelic trash better left as a practice piece discarded on the studio floor).
Worth the price of admission: Castles Made of Sand, Bold as Love, Little Wing.

The Beatles - Help
If there ever were an underappreciated Beatles album, it would be Help. Lost in the mountains of praise heaped on The Beatles' three following albums, Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt. Peppers, the soundtrack from the film Help is often overlooked in the general adulation for what came after. Certainly, there are vestiges of the early 60s Fab Four, with a reliance on two-minute teen tunes of love and loss ("The Night Before", "Another Girl", You're Going to Lose that Girl", "You Like Me too Much", etc.), but on a grander scale there is the Dylanesque "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away", the superb harmonies and mix of acoustic and electric elements in "Help", the great McCartney acoustic tune "I've Just Seen a Face" and the even greater "Yesterday", the most covered tune in the history of mankind. There is still the requisite blast of R&B in Lennon's throaty version of "Dizzy Miss Lizzie", and Ringo's droll "Act Naturally". but even through the preponderance of pop balladry, songs like "Night Before", "Ticket to Ride and "It's Only Love" would suffer at the hands of lesser bands. Here, they are polished to an incredibly bright shine and they hold up remarkably well even with their naivety.
Worth the price of admission: Help, I've Just Seen a Face, You've Got to Hide Your Love Away.

Cream - Disraeli Gears
Buoyed by the monstrous Claptonian riffs of "Sunshine of Your Love", Cream began their exit from the boundaries of the blues for the ethereal lands of psychedelia. Such songs as "SWLABR" (short for "She Walks Like A Bearded Rainbow" - yeah, my sober wife would not approve of such a stoned compliment), the epic "Tales of Brave Ulysses", "World of Pain", Jack Bruce's soaring vocals on "We're Going Wrong" and "Strange Brew" were as colorful as the purple microdot in that Summer of Love in 1967. There is still a bunch of blues on Disraeli Gears, like "Outside Woman Blues", "Blue Condition" (in which Ginger Baker certainly sings stoned), and "Take It Back", but the entire album is drenched in the psychedelia of the time, paced on the backbeat of spastic Ginger Baker, who often seems to be playing drums to a song altogether different than the one Clapton and Bruce are wailing on. And, of course, there is the cockney English bathing song "Mother's Lament", which I included here because it still cracks me up.
Worth the price of admission: SWLABR, Tales of Brave Ulysses, Sunshine of Your Love, Mother's Lament.

The Moody Blues - In Search of the Lost Chord
Many bands that have a stunning and milestone album like Days of Future Passed usually have a bit of a drop off on the next album (think Led Zeppelin with the heavenly Volume IV and then the solid but merely mortal Houses of the Holy); that, however, is not the case with the Moody's release In Search of the Lost Chord. In fact, The Lost Chord became a touchstone album of the LSD-driven hippy movement. And it is certainly trippy throughout. Two songs are absolutely stunning (whether you're on acid or not): "Visions of Paradise" (and with a pair of headphones you can certainly reach nirvana on this one) and "The Actor" (just a beautifully composed song). Add to that the glorious "Voices in the Sky", "Legend of a Mind" (the ode to LSD proponent Dr. Timothy Leary), the famous poem "Departure" (complete with a more and more frantic voice reciting the poem followed by a maniacal cackle) and the all-time great "Ride My See-Saw" (Moody's concert-ender for decades), and you have a first rate album and essential piece of the 1960's.
Worth the price of admission: Departure/Ride My See-Saw, The Actor, Visions of Paradise.

Procol Harum - A Salty Dog
A mighty amalgam of prog, psychedelia, blues and classical elements, A Salty Dog succeeds on several levels, and the band Procol Harum was the thinking man's rock of the 1960s. The title song "A Salty Dog" is perhaps the best song Harum ever composed (yes, even better than "Whiter Shade of Pale"), and certainly worthy of being considered one of the greatest of the Age. The nautical theme continues on "The Wreck of the Hesperus", while "Pilgrim's Progress" takes us on a different kind of journey, and quite appropriate as Matthew Fisher's last song with the band. Robin Trower does a gritty vocal turn on the bluesy "Crucifiction Lane", and the song "Milk of Human Kindness" is one of those songs that fades out far too early (probably why Trower ended up leaving, cut off just as he was about to get going).
Worth the price of admission: A Salty Dog,The Milk of Human Kindness, Crucifiction Lane.

The Yardbirds - Having a Rave Up
This is a damn hard album to find, and the CDs are extravagantly overpriced imports from Japan or Uzbekistan or somewhere. Even stranger, side one features guitarist Jeff Beck and side two has Eric Clapton (who left the Yardbirds eight months previously). But for all its odd inaccessibility and air of changing horses in mid-stream, Having a Rave Up is one of the best 1960s guitar albums. Let's see, you've got Beck playing on "Heart Full of Soul" (his guitar mimicking a sitar), "Train Kept A-Rollin' (no kids, Aerosmith didn't write that one), and "You're a Better Man Than I", while Clapton does a blistering "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Respectable" and "I'm a Man", and on all the rereleases, the great "Shapes of Things" with Beck is also added. A master's class in mid-60s rock guitar. Now, if only you can find it!
Worth the price of admission: Shapes of Things, Train Kept A-Rollin', Heart Full of Soul.

The Pentangle - Basket of Light
Perhaps you've never heard of this album. Perhaps you've never heard of Pentangle. Perhaps you've never heard of Bert Jansch. Well, Bert Jansch is one of the most innovative acoustic guitarists of all-time, and a direct influence on Jimmy Page, Paul Simon, Neil Young, Roy Harper, Nick Drake and Donovan (ask them, they'll tell you), and Pentangle was a band on the cutting edge of the British folk revival, and as formidable a group of musicians as that other Brit-folk juggernaut, Fairport Convention. The compositions on Basket of Light are extraordinary and Jacqui McShee's vocals are exquisite. This release and those by Fairport are the reasons I prefer British to American folk of the 60s and 70s - Dylan included: the musicianship is far superior. If you enjoyed this album, try Pentangle's next record Cruel Sister (1970), which is even better. I've included a live version of songs from the album because I couldn't find decent studio cuts.
Worth the price of admission: House Carpenter, Hunting Song, Light Flight/Train Song (live).

The Who - The Who Sings My Generation
"Why don't you all f-f-f-fade away!" The eternal rebels who hoped they died before they got old are in their "Maximum R and B" mode on their debut album (My Generation in the UK and The Who Sings My Generation in the States), even attempting a James Brown song "I Don't Mind" (but not sounding quite authentic there), although they do a bit better on Bo Diddley's "I'm a Man". But the album unleashed the violent drumming of Keith Moon, the swooping windmills of Pete Townshend and the thundering bass of John Entwistle on an unsuspecting public spoon-fed safer Brit Invaders like Herman's Hermits and The Fab Four. But one listen to spastic explosions like "The Ox" (with the great piano of Nicky Hopkins, who lends a hand throughout the album), should dispel the notion that The Who were ever safe. There's Townshend's sly "A Legal Matter", the soaring "The Kids are Alright" and, of course, "My Generation", the anthem for generations of problem children. Like me.
Worth the price of admission: A Legal Matter, The Kids Are Alright, The Ox.

The Stooges
The distortion alone on "I Wanna Be Your Dog" was enough to kill psychedelic music by the end of '69, but Iggy Pop's strident vocals put the nails in the coffin. Although no one could predict it at the time, this was punk before there ever was such a thing. Forget about the poseurs from New York like the Warhol-funded Velvet Underground (although John Cale  knew a good thing when he heard it, and had the good sense to produce The Stooges album) or The New York Dolls. Bands like The Stooges and the MC5 from Detroit would kick their asses in a bar fight. Or in an alley. Or on stage. This is the true beginnings of punk, and it never was better than Iggy and the Stooges. The song "Ann" is either a parody of the Doors and Jim Morrison, or a reverent tribute. Maybe both?
Worth the price of admission: I Wanna Be Your Dog, 1969, No Fun.

Simon and Garfunkel - Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
Simon and Garfunkel's release Bookends may perhaps be more consistent, bordering on the bold and audacious realm of concept album; however, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme has more brilliant compositions overall. There are a few dated, hippie-induced bits of filler that detract from the overall brilliance (and although I love the acoustic guitar work on "The 59th Street Bridge Song", the chorus of "feelin' groovy" is now chuckle-inducing), but stellar tracks like "Scarborough Fair/Canticle", "Homeward Bound", "The Dangling Conversation", "For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her", and "7 O'clock News/Silent Night" are beautiful and illuminating. Intelligence and sensitivity in a rock album? Yes, Simon and Garfunkel were the torchbearers for the 1970's renaissance of thoughtful singer/songwriters. As far as exquisite pop ballads and cerebral protest songs, it doesn't get much better than this.
Worth the price of admission: Scarborough Fair, For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her, Homeward Bound.

The Zombies - Odessey and Oracle
Interestingly enough, The Zombies' greatest album Odessey and Oracle was released after the band had broken up (CBS shipped it in April of 1968, but the band split up in December, 1967). It was not a success initially, but after "Time of the Season" became a hit in 1969 (a year after the band officially ended), the album took off as well. Unfortunately, by that time vocalist Colin Blunstone was busy with solo albums (and later with The Alan Parsons Project) and keyboardist Rod Argent had formed his owned band, cleverly named "Argent". The album is a paradox mix of soaring pop a la The Beach Boys or The Beatles, which is evident in the effervescent prison song (yes, prison) "Care of Cell 44" or "I Want Her, She Wants Me", and the psychedelic and carnivalesquely bizarre, like the superb "A Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914)" and "Hung Up on a Dream". Ah, so many great songs, so little time: "This Will Be Our Year", "A Rose for Emily", "Maybe After He's Gone", etc. Beautiful harmonies, catchy hooks, and here you have a cult classic.
Worth the price of admission: Time of the Season, Care of Cell 44, Butcher's Tale (Western Front 1914).

The Kinks - The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society
Ray Davies sabotaged his own career by writing consecutive masterpieces that weren't commercially acceptable. Smack dab in the psychedelic rock revolution, he writes Village Green Preservation Society (1968), followed by Arthur - Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire (1969). Neither has a viable hit single, and although both have scathing social commentary from the witty mind of Davies, neither has the catchy buzzwords or relevance to the late 60s protest scene. Both albums are in fact old-fashioned and nostalgic (and nostalgia wasn't hip until the 70s). Village Green is full of catchy and memorable tunes like "Do You Remember Walter", "Johnny Thunder", "Wicked Annabella", "People Take Pictures of Each Other", "Animal Farm", etc., and Davies is snarky, clever, warped, wicked and weird. The Village Green Preservation Society is one hell of an entertaining album.
Worth the price of admission: Do You Remember Walter?, Wicked Annabella, Animal Farm, People Take Pictures of Each Other.

Led Zeppelin
A great rookie outing from Led Zeppelin, which was savaged by critics who, as usual, have one finger on the pulse of the listening public and another up their ass. Some really good, albeit derivative, blues on this one, particularly "You Shook Me" (love the blues harp and organ solos), "I Can't Quit You Baby", and "How Many More Times", but my favorites are the acoustic epic "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You", the spastic "Communication Breakdown" ("Drive me insane", indeed!) and "Black Mountain Side" (the crazy drop-D tuning song lifted from Bert Jansch and featuring the Kenyan/Indian raga musician Viram Jasani on tabla drums). I could live without hearing "Good Times Bad Times" and "Your Time Is Gonna Come", and "Dazed and Confused" sounds terribly dated these days, but you've got to love the bone-crunching drums of John Bonham. So hey, hey, what can I do?
Worth the price of admission: Babe I'm Gonna Leave You, How Many More Times, Black Mountain Side.

Cream - Wheels of Fire
A double album with sides 1 and 2 recorded in studio and sides 3 and 4 live at The Fillmore and Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, Wheels of Fire may have its dated moments ("Pressed Rat and Warthog" and "Politician" are irritating), but there is some sublime stuff here: the stellar psychedelics of "White Room" "Those Were the Days", and "As You Said", and some extraordinary blues, such as the live versions of "Spoonful" and the legendary "Crossroads", and studio versions of "Sitting on Top of the World" and "Born Under a Bad Sign". I've included the ironic "Anyone for Tennis" because it doesn't appear on every pressing of the album, and includes some of the cleverest lyrics Clapton ever wrote (including the line "the beggar stains the pavement with fluorescent Christmas cheer"). This was Cream's last 'real' studio album, as the 1969 release Goodbye only contained three new songs, and of those "Badge" (by Clapton and George Harrison) was the only worthwhile tune.
Worth the price of admission: Born Under a Bad Sign, As You Said, Spoonful, Anyone for Tennis.

Blood, Sweat & Tears
There was an inclination for me to put BS&T's first album Child is Father to the Man here, but this, their second album, is just too much of a full blown, horn-driven pop juggernaut to ignore. Gone was the musical craftsmanship of Al Kooper, and in comes David Clayton-Thomas with his bluesy growl. This album was a hit-making machine: "Spinning Wheel", "And When I Die", "You Made Me So Very Happy", "God Bless the Child", interpolations of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" and Willie Dixon's "Spoonful", and a nice cover of Traffic's "Smiling Phases. The horn section is absolutely wicked on this album, turning throwaway pop melodies and top ten hits into unforgettable compositions of stinging jazz riffs. Unfortunately, Blood, Sweat & Tears blew their collective wad on their first two albums, and everything thereafter is lackluster and eventually descending into the pit of parody. But buy the first two. They're well worth it.
Worth the price of admission: God Bless the Child, You Made So Very Happy, Blues Part II/Variations On A Theme By Erik Satie (1st Movement), Spinning Wheel.

The Mama's and the Papa's - If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears
'Papa' John Phillips had an ear for great song hooks and a leer for eye-candy (having had an affair with Michelle Phillips while she was still a teen, divorcing his then-wife, and then marrying Michelle when she reached the advanced age of 18). In any case, The Mamas and the Papas were one of the greatest vocal bands of the 60s, and nowhere is this more apparent than on their 1966 debut album. With iconic classics like "Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin', a stellar version of The Beatles' "I Call Your Name", and various hipster wink-and-a-nudge pop like "The In Crowd" and "Go Where You Wanna Go", the record hit #1 and gave Phillips enough clout to host the historic Monterey Pop Festival a year later. It should be noted that the original album cover (with the group piled in a bathtub, pictured here) was pulled from stores after release because the adjacent toilet was considered "indecent". My, how shit has changed.
Worth the price of admission: I Call Your Name, The In Crowd, California Dreamin'.

Chicago Transit Authority
Chicago's debut album (but back in 1969 they were still listed as CTA, until the real Chicago Transit Authority, as in the Richard Daley Political Machine, sued) was very successful, but strangely enough, many of the hits from the album were belated, and "Beginnings", "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It is?" and "Questions 67 and 68" didn't chart until 1970 or 71. Like Blood, Sweat and Tears, Chicago's jazz/rock fusion with a horn section to supplement the guitars was unique in the late 60s, but Chicago did BS& T one better by integrating heavy rock and blues in the mix, and thus garnering a wider audience. Of note is a version of Steve Winwood's "I'm a Man" and Terry Kath's experimental paean to Hendrix "Free Form Guitar". Although Chicago eventually became maudlin and far too syrupy for my tastes, this is one killer album, and well worth a listen. Even if you really don't know what time it is.
Worth the price of admission: I'm a Man, South California Purples, Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?.

Nick Drake - Five Leaves Left
Many Drake zealots have huge erections for the album Pink Moon, Drake's final studio recording before he died of an overdose of antidepressants; however, Five Leaves Left, with top notch backing by band members of Fairport Convention and Pentangle and the lush strings of Robert Kirby is, in my estimation, a more consistent album than Pink Moon (which is a completely solo endeavor). The winsome "Time Has Told Me" (with Richard Thompson on lead guitar), the strident picking on "Cello Song", the ethereal and ghostly "Three Hours", the jazzy and whimsical "Man in a Shed", and the elegiac "Fruit Tree" all point to a wonderful performer shrouded in depression, insomnia and melancholy, a sadness that consumed him before he truly met his potential.
Worth the price of admission: Time Has Told Me, Cello Song, Three Hours, Fruit Tree.

Santana took Latin music from South of the Border and Cuba to mainstream markets with no cloying sentimentality. Even a pop tune like "Evil Ways" is wicked. Listen to the ominous "Jingo" or the all-out jam "Soul Sacrifice" or "Savor", and you'll notice this is one of the first rock albums to put a premium on percussions, and drummer Mike Shrieve (only 19 at the time) with Michael Carabello and Jose "Chepito" Areas on conga and timbales are remarkable. Greg Rolie on organ and vocals is also superb here (and for that, we'll forgive him for later forming the band Journey). But above it all, Carlos Santana's guitar mastery, controlled and crazy at the same time, flows in one long assault of rapid-fire staccato riffs. Like the aforementioned Sly and the Family Stone, Santana was one of the two or three acts who absolutely stole the show at Woodstock, and they were playing selection from this, their debut album, which is, in my estimation, one of the top ten greatest debut rock albums of all-time.
Worth the price of admission: Soul Sacrifice, Jingo, Savor.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Green River
As American as apple pie, blue jeans and LSD, Creedence, along with The Band, were the greatest examples of authentic State-side roots music in the 60s. Green River, Creedence's third album, ramps up the sound and intensifies the themes found on their previous release, Bayou Country, to ominous levels. Green River is a very dark album, and John Fogerty begins to include anti-war and anti-government messages which became more prevalent and strident on later albums. A perfect example is from the countrified ballad "Wrote a Song For Everyone": "Saw the people standin' thousand years in chains / Somebody said it's diff'rent now, look, it's just the same / Pharaohs spin the message, round and round the truth." The song "Green River" may sound scary, but it's just a reminiscence of Fogerty's youth playing down at a creek in California. There's also the werewolf anthem "Bad Moon Rising", a down-on-his-luck musician's last stand in "Lodi", and the ode to cacophonous urban travail, "Commotion".
Worth the price of admission: Wrote a Song For Everyone, Green River, Commotion.

ONLY IN THE 1960s...

Some albums are just indelibly linked to the 1960s. You couldn't pry them out of the 60s with a crowbar, or drag them into the 70s with a tow truck. The six albums listed below are anchored into the bedrock of the 60's, like time capsules, only to be opened while wearing tie-dyed t-shirts, Harachi sandals, maybe some beads and a headband, and the odor of patchouli oil drifting over your turntable. Some are of superior quality (The Mothers and The United States of America, for instance), and some not so much. But where else are you going to hear a 20 minute-long hippie acoustic epic about Thanksgiving and a garbage dump, or a song about "Saran Wrap" used in place of a condom? Far out, dude! And don't bogart that jay.

Mothers of Invention - We're Only In It For The Money
When Frank Zappa heard The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, he was not amused. Or perhaps he was amused. Most likely he was bemused. In any case, he felt it necessary to respond. And respond he did, with a sprawling and savage indictment of The Beatles, flower power and the whole warped hippie scene in "The Summer of Love". I must warn you, the album is a bit...bizarre. That it was released in 1968 during the height of Beatle adulation makes it even more striking. Believe me, no one had tried anything like this previously (unless you count The Mothers' previous albums).The album starts out with "Are You Hung Up", featuring Eric Clapton in a speaking role and the famous line by the Mothers' drummer: "Hi, boys and girls, I'm Jimmy Carl Black, I'm the Indian of the group!" The album degenerates from there. The Mothers lampoon just about every aspect of 60's U.S. culture (or lack thereof), but beyond that it is one of the best psychedelic albums ever created. Zappa's pastiche 'n' montage-o-rama doesn't require acid to trip with (although that would certainly be optional), and many of The Mothers' lampoon songs are almost "filks" in how closely they mock tunes meant for mass consumption.
Worth the price of admission: Mother People, Flower Punk, Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance, Who Needs the Peace Corps.

David Peel and the Lower East Side - Have a Marijuana
The guitars are untuned, the voices are ragged and the compositions are sophomoric and simplistic. But if you've ever attended a Hash Bash in Ann Arbor, MI (or wherever else such pot protests are held in the States), then you've seen someone just like David Peel with a beat up acoustic and some guy on bongos or tambourine singing of dope and lost hope. This live recording of the trashed troubadours of sidewalk and gutter offers a priceless look into the 60s street scene. It is genuinely funny, if ironically so, and a good time was had by all. Whether they remembered what happened the next day remains to be seen, but at least they can listen to what they did. Actually, I am shocked and amazed I found some songs on YouTube! The first time I heard it was in the early 70s at a friend's house (his older brother, a biker, bought the album sometime earlier). I still recall it to this day, which is amazing considering the amount of brain cells I have destroyed since. Parental Warning: Obscene language - do not let parents listen!
Worth the price of admission: Happy Mother's Day, Up Against the Wall, Mother, Where is My Father?.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown - The Crazy World of Arthur Brown
Arthur Brown has always been one of my favorite aliens. Anyone who can go through most of a video with his head on fire is alright in my book (see the video of "Fire"). This album The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, released in 1968, was significant on many levels, and not just for Alice Cooper stealing Arthur Brown's mascara (although it's obvious Alice owes Arthur a debt of gratitude). The first, faint rumblings of progressive rock can also be found here, such as on "Prelude/Nightmare" featuring the grinding organ of Vincent Crane, and the Brechtian blues of "Child of My Kingdom". Definitely an acquired taste, like calamari or head cheese, but definitely a worthwhile listen for elements far ahead of its time. Arthur Brown got a little too crazy for his own good, and faded off into obscure eccentricities and noxious novelty acts, but this is one brilliant album.
Worth the price of admission: Fire, Prelude/Nightmare, Child of my Kingdom.

The Fugs - Golden Filth (Live at the Filmore East)
If you are a connoisseur of The Fugs, then you already are aware of the albums Tenderness Junction and It Crawled into My Hand, Honest. But for those unaware of The Fug's scatologically puerile humor, the type only a 12 year-old boy could love (but to which nearly every guy will descend to, no matter the age), then take a listen to this live Fug album. The studio albums are better, musically speaking (joined by members of the Holy Modal Rounders and Danny Kortchmar), but The Fugs frontmen Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg are a scream with their pre-song patter, part Allen Ginsberg, part George Carlin and part Frank Zappa. It's infantile, it's juvenile, but it'll make you smile. Admit it. Hey, enshrined somewhere in Washington is an F.B.I. file that states that songs from The Fugs are "vulgar and repulsive and are most suggestive." How can you go wrong with such a recommendation? By the way, the name "Fugs" comes from Norman Mailer's term for "fuck" in The Naked and the Dead.
Worth the price of admission: Saran Wrap, Coca-Cola Douche, Slum Goddess.

The United States of America
The debut album from The United States of America was the only album they ever released, but it is a psychedelic gem! In fact, it goes beyond anything psychedelic Syd Barrett and Floyd attempted. One listen to "The American Metaphysical Circus" will get you stoned on a cup of coffee and a bagel. The ode to a Hieronymus Bosch painting "The Garden of Earthly Delights" is very evocative, and the wonderfully weird Mardi Gras of the bizarre "I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar" (fabulous title!) tweaks the suburban mundanity of the 1960s. A great, quirky snapshot of America in the 1960s.
Worth the price of admission: The American Metaphysical Circus, The Garden of Earthly Delights, I Won't Leave My Wooden Wife For You, Sugar, Cloud Song.

Arlo Guthrie - Alice's Restaurant
You have to hand it to Arlo Guthrie. Having a legendary father the likes of Woody Guthrie, a veritable patron saint of American folk music, makes for a daunting obstacle for a son attempting to follow down the same musical path, but Arlo did it with grace and humor - lots of humor. Arlo may not have reached the strata of his deified father, yet he achieved a level of respectability and honest musicianship that is noteworthy. Nowhere is this more memorable than on Alice's Restaurant, where Arlo becomes a storyteller par excellence. The Thanksgiving anthem "Alice's Restaurant Masacree" is one of the funniest and most clever songs ever written and, clocking in at 18:20, one of the grandest folk epics ever attempted. Then, of course, there is "The Motorcycle Song" which will have you humming "I don't want a pickle, I just wanna ride my motor-sickle" for the rest of the day.
Worth the price of admission: Alice's Restaurant Massacree, Part I, Alice's Restaurant Massacree, Part II, The Motorcycle Song (alternate version)